In July, the Immigration Legal Services (ILS) program offered DACA renewal services for the first time to over 60 individuals through volunteer-staffed workshops.
In 1998, Brandon Vega Ayala came to the U.S. at the age of two. His mother decided to flee an abusive relationship and her family saved the money to help her and her son cross the border without authorization. In doing so, Brandon became one of the so-called "DREAMers," or undocumented youth brought into the country as young children.
In his early years in the U.S., Brandon moved often around the Sacramento area with his mother. They eventually established themselves in the Rosemont area and he attended Hiram Johnson High School. "My mom told me I had to be careful, that I didn't have papers," Brandon explained. He participated in numerous clubs and sports in school, but his lack of status thwarted his dreams. "I planned to join the U.S. military, but my immigration status prevented me from enlisting."
When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was announced in 2012, Brandon was a sophomore. The new program provided protection from deportation and a work permit that was renewable every two years. He filed for DACA and has renewed it ever since.
Today, Brandon lives a full life, in part owing to his DACA protections. Last December, he married Paulina, a friend from high school. He works 50 hours a week at a grocery store while taking college classes on the side to complete programs in business management and electrical engineering.
Last September, President Trump ended the DACA program and observers hoped the action would spur a permanent legislative solution for DREAMers, but a new law has not materialized. While several federal judges ordered that the program remain open for renewal applications, it was expected another conflicting judicial decision in August 2018 might lead to the DACA program's permanent termination. Advocates recommended DACA-holders renew while it was still possible.
Brandon wanted to renew and had friends who had been going to private attorneys and paying over $1,500 to file renewal applications, an amount he couldn't easily spare. His wife researched resources to renew and found a listing for World Relief Sacramento's first free DACA renewal workshop.
"The ILS program has moved into a new direction with these workshops to help meet the tremendous need in the community," shared Ted Oswald, the ILS manager at World Relief Sacramento. Thanks to a California state grant, the ILS program covers the $495 application fee for income-eligible individuals like Brandon, and prepares, reviews, packages, and submits applications, all for completely free. The workshops have been a success. "Over just three evenings, our small ILS team's efforts have been multiplied by 10 amazing volunteers to serve over 60 DACA-recipients."
Brandon attended the inaugural workshop with his wife and expressed his gratitude to the ILS team by email afterward. "The workshop touched my wife and I with your team's kindness and dedication in helping me," Brandon wrote. "Considering the political backlashes we receive daily, this has brought hope and "relief" into our lives."